Nisha Qureshi

TV Networks revolutionise sports broadcasting with AI

A look at how sports broadcasting players are navigating the uncharted territory of AI and leading. 

The sports broadcasting industry is undergoing a seismic shift on the back of technical innovations to suit the needs of the modern and dynamic sports audience. Traditional TV networks, who jumped onto the digital streaming world a few years ago, are now revolutionising traditional sports broadcasting on the back of AI.

Leading domestic and international networks are bringing in interesting innovations to keep the ever evolving audiences hooked to their TV/Mobile screens.

At the recently held SVG India summit in Mumbai hosted by Star Sports, leaders and stakeholders of the sports broadcasting industry spoke about how the industry is navigating modern sports broadcasting by championing AI and ML.

Addressing the audiences, Sanjog Gupta, Head of Sports, Disney Star says, shifts in the sports broadcasting landscape across the world are driven by profound, irreversible and far-reaching forces, created by rapidly evolving consumers and consumption altering technology.

He says, with an abundance of media options vying for viewers' attention, earning each second of engagement has become paramount. In this fiercely competitive landscape, even revered sports genres like cricket must continually innovate to captivate audiences.

Dubbed as the three D's of media disruption, he says these forces (disaggregation of attention, decentralisation of platforms and democratisation of creation) are reshaping how audiences engage with sports content worldwide.

He says how we experience life around us, from work to play, and by virtue of that - media - is changing in every way.

“What is considered ‘normal’ has evolved from tapping on a screen to having ear-buds on all the time to now gesture-based AR. The way we engage with the world around us will be shaped by technology.”

Gupta further adds that Disney Star has been a pioneer and a driver in this space.

Prashant Khanna, Disney Star, head – production excellence and R&D – sports showcased some of the latest innovations they have pioneered with cricket. He spoke about the introduction of AI-driven enhancements, like a translation feature. This allowed international commentators to speak Hindi and other Indian languages in their original voice, thus connecting with a wider audience.

Similarly, they have introduced ‘Holobox’ an augmented reality experience that allowed fans to teleport and interact with the commentators while  another offering called ‘Traxis’ enhanced the graphics in 3D to augment the viewing experience.

The broadcaster further introduced a number of initiatives like bringing in a bot that could give the audiences data in real time and also predict the outcome of the matches.

Another great example of AI driven sports broadcasting was the Spongebob x NFL collab done in the United States. Dan Pack, Silver Spoon Animation, Managing Director explained how CBS and NFL delivered a historic, kid-focused, augmented-reality-filled production of the Super Bowl’s first alternate telecast on Nickelodeon, with an entirely separate production and broadcast crew on another network. 

TV Networks revolutionise sports broadcasting with AI

“We are trying to reach Gen Z and Gen Alpha in new ways. This is the trend in the United States and I hope we take it outside of the United States too,” states Pack.

Navigating the Challenges

The sports broadcasting industry has been entertaining audiences since decades. However, the new advancements, technology and the offset of the pandemic have put the industry in a fix from a talent point of view.

James Rego, RISE Worldwide, head – broadcast & production explains that this is a big gig economy that often sees the same talent across different tournaments.

“So a lot of it actually comes together for an event and then moves away and then comes back again. However, post Covid we saw that a lot of them did not come back. It is true that the industry has been struggling for good talent. This is also a very physically demanding category so this is why we are always looking for younger talent to come in. What is happening in India is that we are still a three network landscape and a lot of these events happen back-to-back.  Either we have a lot of people who can be given different projects. Unfortunately, that is not happening. The same guys are moving from one project to another, not giving them enough time to come up with really creative stuff,” he explains.

Rego adds that AI is a place that can really solve a lot of problems for the production of live sports production like dubbing, record-tracking, editing etc. He further emphasised on the need to continuously empowering the talent by upskilling them with the latest technologies around.

Rahat Kulshreshtha, CEO and founder of Quidich Innovation Labs states it's phenomenal to see the kind of innovations that are happening in the cricket realm.

“I think the idea of augmented reality is really to not take the viewer away from the action, but let them still be a part of what is going on and yet deliver a very interesting data insight. I think we've been able to do it with cricket in multiple ways,” he says.

Kulshreshtha further feels another extreme for AI when it comes to sports is to use it for storytelling. “Something that we've done during COVID was an entire massive drone show during the IPL in the UAE. We celebrated COVID warriors at the time with all of these little drones in augmented reality. So I think the power of it (AI) really is the fact that you're able to create visualisations and experiences for the viewers that have never been seen before.”

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